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You Don’t Get Your Own Personal Jesus

J. D. GreearBy J. D. Greear

When I arrived at the boarding gate, only two other people were waiting to board the late-night flight from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to Charlotte, North Carolina. One was a gentleman I estimated to be 200 years old. The other was a mysterious, brooding young woman in her early 20s with deep brown eyes. I was young and single, so I prayed about where to sit and felt “clearly led” to sit next to the girl.

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, God Is Bigger Than You Imagine: An Interview with J.D. Greear]

She was from Chile, and her name was Berta. She had a strong accent and rolled her r’s whenever she said her name, so it came out Berrrrrrrrrta. She was returning to Boston, Massachusetts, where she lived on campus at Harvard University. I’d just graduated from Campbell University—“ the Harvard of the South”—so immediately I felt we had a bond.

Conversation turned toward what we were doing with our lives, and I told her God had called me into ministry. I explained how I had come to faith in Christ, how he had changed my life, and how I now wanted to spend the rest of my life telling other people about him.

The whole time I talked, she stared at me with those deep, brooding eyes. She said, “You know, at Harvard I am around some of the most driven, intelligent men in the world. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone speak about life with such conviction and purpose.”

I thought, “This is awesome! I’m going to lead this girl to Christ, and then we’re going to get married. This will make a great story for the times I introduce her at Christian conferences and book signings.”

We talked about Jesus for nearly the entire flight. As we began our descent into Charlotte, I thought I better close the deal (um, for Jesus). So I said, “Berrrrta, would you like to trust Jesus as your Savior?”

Without giving it much thought, she said, “No . . . you know, that kind of stuff has just never worked for me. I am so happy that you have found your peace in Jesus, but I relate to my God in a different way.”

“But Berrrrta,” I said. “Jesus said in John 14:6 that he was the only way to come to God. He provided a salvation for us that we could not provide for ourselves. He’s not just my way, Berta; he’s the only way.”

She said, “Surely you are not saying that your way is the only way to God.”

I said, “Berrrta, I don’t think you understand. It’s not my way, it’s his way. And I am not saying that; Jesus said that.”

“You’re trying to tell me that if I don’t accept Jesus the way that you have, I won’t go to heaven?”

“Well, yes.”

“That has to be the most arrogant, closed-minded thing I’ve ever heard someone say. I can’t believe anyone today would be so bigoted as to think that there is only one way to God. What kind of God is that? That’s not a God I want to know.”

At that point, I suspected the wedding was off.

I sat there in my seat, a little shell-shocked, unsure of what to say next. As the pilot announced our final descent into Charlotte, I said: “Berrrrta, I sure am glad the pilot of this airplane doesn’t look at the airport the way you look at truth.”

“What do you mean?”

“Say he announces, ‘You know, I am sick of that arrogant little “control tower” always saying I’ve got to land this 737 on a narrow little strip of cement they call a “runway.” That’s their way, not mine. I am an open-minded pilot, so today I am going to land on the interstate. Or try to balance this aircraft nose first on the tip of the Bank of America building downtown.’ Personally, I’m glad that our pilot chooses to enter the airport along that narrow little way the control tower lays out for him.”

She said, “That’s not a fair comparison.”

I said, “Yes, it is. And that’s Campbell University, 1; Harvard, 0, if you’re keeping score.”

I probably should have been more gracious. But even amidst my wounded ego and the crushed dreams of a Chilean wedding, I stand by that comparison.

Like Berta, very few people object when I say that Jesus Christ is my Savior. Some even find it “attractive.” It’s when I go on to say the rest of what Jesus says—that he is the only way to God and the authority on all matters in life and death—that they cry foul. Our culture’s problem is not with Jesus as a good man, a prophet, a teacher, or even as a deity. It’s with Jesus’s primary claim, that he is Lord.

Sometimes I hear people talk about “my God” or “my Jesus” as if he were their possession. Once, I was listening to two people on a talk show debate the Christian perspective on some moral issue. One, to her credit, was trying to explain what the Bible said. The other, who was a bit more “free-thinking,” kept saying indignantly, “Well, my Jesus would never say that.” The individual referred to “his Jesus” so many times that I finally yelled at the television, “You don’t get your own personal Jesus!” I’m aware that he couldn’t hear me. But it still felt right at the time.

God is not “ours.” He is his own. He’s not a salad bar where we take the items we have an appetite for and leave the others. He’s not the Burger King God, where you “have him your way,” or a Build-A-Bear God, where you assemble the deity you like best.

When God appeared to Moses, he declared, “I am who I am.” “I am who I am” is not “I am whoever you want me to be.”

Can we imagine how offensive it must be to God when we attempt to reshape him according to our preferences? How would you like it if someone did that to you? Suppose a writer approached you and said, “I have been watching you, and I’d really like to write your biography. I want other people to know how wonderful you are.” But then their biography presents you as an astronaut with a string of failed relationships who lives alone with 18 cats, none of which are true. So, you say to your biographer, “Uhhh . . . there’s a problem. First, I’m scared of heights; second, I am not that bad at relationships; and third, like all godly people, I prefer dogs to cats.”

They respond, “Oh, but you are so much more interesting as the spurned, cat-loving astronaut. People will only buy the book if you’re like that.”

My guess is that you’d be offended. If we wouldn’t like someone else doing that to us, why would we think it’s OK to do that with God? Do we think that our idea of God is better than who he actually is?

Have we forgotten who we are talking about?


Not God EnoughTaken from Not God Enough: Why Your Small God Leads to Big Problems by J. D. Greear. Click here to learn more about this title.

Your God is too small.

We like God small. We prefer a God who is safe, domesticated, who thinks like we think, likes what we like, and whom we can manage, predict, and control. A small God is convenient. Practical. Manageable.

The truth: God is big. Bigger than big. Bigger than all the words we use to say big.

Ironically, many today seem turned off by the concept of an awesome, terrifyingly great God. We assume that a God you would need to fear is guilty of some kind of fault. For us, thinking of God as so infinitely greater and wiser than we are and who would cause us to tremble in his presence is a leftover relic from an oppressive, archaic view of religion.

But what if this small version of God we’ve created is holding us back from the greatest experience of our lives—from genuine, confident, world-transforming faith?

In Not God Enough, J.D. reveals how to discover a God who:

  • is big enough to handle your questions, doubts, and fears
  • is not silent
  • is worthy of worship
  • wants to take you from boring to bold in your faith
  • has a purpose and mission for you on earth
  • is pursuing you right now

God is not just a slightly better, slightly smarter version of you. God is infinite and glorious, and an encounter with Him won’t just change the way you think about your faith. It’ll change your entire life.

J. D. Greear is pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. The Summit Church has been ranked by Outreach Magazine as one of the fastest-growing churches in the United States, with a weekly attendance of over 10,000, Greear has a PhD in systematic theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of many books, including Gaining by Losing and Jesus Continued. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with his wife, Veronica, and their four children.

Filed under Books, Guest Post, Jesus, Theology